SS Review: "The Names of Things" by Gibson Fay-Leblanc
Appears in Slice: Issue 17 Fall '15/Winter '16
It would not be an exaggeration to postulate that our perceptions of the world are built entirely upon a foundation of the people and objects around us, especially those that are closest in proximity. We assign names to our feelings, to our pets, to our possessions. Everything we see and know has been scrutinized, classified, and designated in the pages of an encyclopedia. If something does not have a name, then it does not exist. In this sense, if names are the anchors of our knowledge then they must also shape the way in which we perceived ourselves.
In his engrossing short story, Fay-LeBlanc introduces the reader to a man who believes that he is destined for more than what his name, Sam, suggests. Preferring “the Old-Testament, old-school formality” of his full name, Samuel, he believes that the shortened version describes someone who is fleeting, unreliable, someone he doesn’t want to be. That theme of identity, of soul-searching, is a theme that propels the rest of the story. Struggling to adapt to his new life as a stay-at-home dad (a phrase he admonishes), Sam is constantly drawn by an inner pull, a magnetism to a life that always seems to be within reach but impossible to grasp. “…I imagined, over and over, quitting my job teaching eight graders and moving with her down to the one and only City, the center of the universe,” he reflects. All of his desire seems to be concentrated in the effort to discover what make him happy, the elusive Holy Grail in literature. His son, Henry, screams like siren at all hours while his wife works a hectic shift at City Hospital, a sacrifice that shackles Sam to the role of caretaker for their young child.
Told with profound insight and an unflinching honesty, “The Names of Things,” is an insightful portrayal of the twenty-first century man and the new obstacles that face him.